Friday, January 3, 2014

Jackie Gleason's TV Mega-Bomb

Gleason ShowThe original 'Jackie Gleason Show' aired on CBS from 1952-1955 as a traditional hour-long variety show. In 1955, the series was pared to thirty-minutes and featured exclusively one of the regular sketches from the show - 'The Honeymooners. The show returned to an hour format in the fall of 1956 for one season.

"The Great One" (as he was known) returned to television in October of 1958 in a live, thirty-minute variety show - but Gleason stopped production after a three-month run stating: "Anytime quality has a deadline, it's got to deteriorate. You can strive for quality week in and week out, but you won't often get it because it can't be manufactured within a specific time."

Switching gears, Gleason's next TV project was a game show. Games were big in the ratings, Groucho was having tremendous success with You Bet Your Life on NBC. You're in the Picture was added to the CBS schedule on January 20, 1961 to replace the poorly performing sitcom 'Mr. Garland', Friday nights at 9:30. How's this for a premise - celebrity contestants stick their heads into a painted scene, and they have to guess what the scene is, or what historical figure they represent by asking the emcee questions.

The celebrity contestants for that first (and as it turned out ONLY broadcast) episode included Jan Sterling, Keenan Wynn, Aurthur Treacher, and Pat Carroll.

Jackie Gleason : "You're in the Picture" by werquin

Jackie Gleason
Cope Robinson writes: "Well, I saw 'You're In The Picture' too. From the control room at some CBS theatre for I had bought the program. I, or rather my company, was the sponsor.

"Jackie and the people at William Morris, his agency, had put the production together. Together with CBS, they pitched the program to me and a few others at Liggett & Myers. I remember thinking that the show could be risky for it was quite removed from anything that Gleason had done and the premise of celebrities sticking their heads through a painted plywood board and quessing what historical character they were supposed to be was pretty shaky.

"But I think I thought that since Jackie Gleason was at the peak of his career, he could pull off a silly game show with the same success Groucho Marx was enjoying on NBC.

"It was a huge bomb! Everybody knew it. Gleason, William Morris, CBS, and, for sure, Liggett & Myers. The real question after the first show was what do we do now.

"I don't remember who came up with the idea for the second show, probably Gleason himself. Nor do I recall that CBS wanted to continue with the game show. If they did, they didn't tell me and I can add if they had they would have done so without this sponsor.

"I should have known that things would go wrong when at the first script rehearsal, the first meeting for the show, Gleason asked before the start, "Who is the GREAT ONE?" A chorus rang out, "You are!" That began an association with the greatest egotist I have ever known."